View Full Version : Mote In God's Eye, The - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

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06-07-2007, 08:13 PM
Chapter 14 - The Engineer

The alien ship was a compact bulk, irregular of shape and dull gray in color, like modeling clay molded in cupped hands. Extrusions sprouted at seeming random: a ring of hooks around what Whitbread took for the aft end; a thread of bright silver girdling its waist; transparent bulges fore and aft; antennae in highly imaginative curves; and dead aft, a kind of stinger: a spine many times the length of the hull, very long and straight and narrow.
Whitbread coasted slowly inward. He rode a space-to-space taxi, the cabin a polarized plastic bubble, the short hull studded with "thruster clusters" -- arrays of attitude jets. Whitbread had trained for space in such a vehicle. Its field of view was enormous; it was childishly easy to steer; it was cheap, weaponless, and expendable.
And the alien could see him inside. We come in peace, with nothing hidden-assuming its alien eyes could see through clear battle plastic.
"That spine generates the plasma fields for the drive," his communicator was saying. There was no screen, but the voice was Cargill's. " We watched it during deceleration. That spiggot device beneath the spine probably feeds hydrogen into the fields."
"I'd better stay out of its way," said Mr. Whitbread.
"Right. The field intensity would probably wreck your instruments. It might affect your nervous systems too."
The alien ship was very close now. Whitbread fired bursts to slow himself. The attitude jets sounded like popcorn popping.
"See any signs of an air lock?"
"No, sir."
"Open your own air lock. Maybe that will get the idea across."
"Aye aye, sir." Whitbread could see the alien through the forward bubble. It was motionless, watching him, and it looked very like the photographs he had seen of the dead one in the probe. Jonathon Whitbread saw a neckless, lopsided head, smooth brown fur, a heavy left arm gripping something, two slender right arms moving franticallyfast, doing things out of his field of vision.
Whitbread opened his air lock. And waited.
At least the Motie hadn't started shooting yet.

The Engineer was captivated. She hardly noticed the tiny vehicle nearby. There were no new principles embodied there. But the big ship!
It had a strange field around it, something the Engineer had never believed possible. It registered on half a dozen of the Engineer's instruments. To others the force envelope was partly transparent. The Engineer knew enough about the warship already to scare the wits out of Captain Blaine if he'd known. But it was not enough to satisfy an Engineer.
All that gadgetry! And metal!
The small vehicle's curved door was opening and closing now. It flashed lights on and off. Patterns of elect electromagnetic force radiated from both vehicles. The signals meant nothing to an Engineer.
It was the ship's gadetry that held her attention. The Field itself, its properties intriguing and puzzling, its underlying principles a matter of guesswork. The Engineer was ready to spend the rest of her life trying. For one look at the generator she would have died. The big ship's motive force was different from any fusion plant the Engineer had ever heard of; and its workings seemed to use the properties of that mysterious force envelope.
How to get aboard? How to get through that envelope? The intuition that came was rare for an Engineer. The small craft...was it trying to talk to her? It had come from the large craft. Then...
The small craft was a link to the larger ship, to the force envelope and its technology and the mystery of its sudden appearance.
She had forgotten danger. She had forgotten everything in the burning urge to know more about that field. The Engineer opened her air-lock door and waited to see what would happen.

"Mister Whitbread, your alien is trying to use probes on MacArthur," Captain Blaine was saying, "Commander Cargill says he has them blocked. If that makes the alien suspicious, it can't be helped. Has he tried any kind of probe on you?"
"No, sir."
Rod frowned and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You're sure?"
"I've been watching the instruments, sir."
"That's funny. You're smaller, but you're close. You'd think he -- "
"The air lock!" Whitbread snapped. "Sir, the Motie's opened his air lock."
"I see it. A mouth opened in the hull. Is that what you me an?"
"Yessir. Nothing coming out. I can see the whole cabin through that opening. The Motie's in his control cabin- permission to enter, sir?"
"Hmm. OK. Watch yourself. Stay in communication. And good luck; Whitbread."
Jonathon sat a moment, nerving himself. He had half hoped the Captain would forbid it as too dangerous. But of course midshipmen are expendable...Whitbread braced himself in the open air lock. The alien ship was very close. With the entire ship watching him, he launched himself into space.
Part of the alien's hull had stretched like skin, to open into a kind of funnel. A strange way to build an air lock, thought Whitbread. He used backpack jets to slow himself as he drifted straight into the funnel, straight toward the Motie, who stood waiting to receive him.
The alien wore only its soft brown fur and four thick pads of black hair, one in each armpit and one at the groin. "No sign of what's holding the air in, but there's got to be air in there," Whitbread told the mike. A moment later he knew. He had run into invisible honey.
The air lock closed against his back.
He almost panicked. Caught like a fly in amber, no forward, no retreat. He was in a cell 130 cm high, the heightof the alien. It stood before him on the other side of the:mnvisibte wall, blank-faced, looking him over.
The Motie. It was shorter than the other, the dead one in the probe. Its color was different: there were no white markings through the brown fur. There was another, subtler, more elusive difference...perhaps the difference between the quick and the dead, perhaps something else.
The Motie was not frightening. Its smooth fur was like one of the Doberman pinschers Whitbread's mother used to raise, but there was nothing vicious or powerful looking about the alien. Whitbread would have liked to stroke its fur.
The face was no more than a sketch, without expression, except for a gentle upward curve of the lipless mouth, a sardonic half-smile. Small, fiat-footed, smooth-furred, almost featureless- It looks like a cartoon, Whitbread thought. How could he be afraid of a cartoon?
But Jonathon Whitbread was crouched in a space much too small for him, and the alien was doing nothing about it.

The cabin was a crowded patchwork of panels and dark crevasses, and tiny faces peered at him from the shadows.
Vermin! The ship was infested with vermin. Rats? Food supply? The Motie did not seem disturbed as one flashed into the open, then another, more dancing from cover to cover, crowding close to see the intruder.
They were big things. Much bigger than rats, much smaller than men. They peered from the corners, curious but timid. One dodged close and Whitbread got a good look. What he saw made him gasp. It was a tiny Motie!

It was a difficult time for the Engineer. The intruder's entry should have answered questions, but it only raised more.
What was it? Big, big-headed, symmetrical as an animal, but equipped with its own vehicle like an Engineer or a Master. There had never been a class like this. Would it obey or command? Could the hands be as clumsy as they looked? Mutation, monster, sport? What was it for?
Its mouth was moving now. It must be speaking into a communications device. That was no help. Even Messengers used language.
Engineers were not equipped to make such decisions; but one could always wait for more data.
Engineers had endless patience.

"There's air," Whitbread reported. He watched the telltales that showed in a mirror just above his eye level. "Did I mention that? I wouldn't want to try breathing it. Normal pressure, oxygen around 18 percent, CO2 about 2 percent, enough helium to register, and -- "
"Helium? That's odd. Just how much?"
Whitbread switched over to a more sensitive scale and waited for the analyzer to work. "Around 1 percent. Just under."
"Anything else?"
"Poisons. SO2, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, ketones, alcohols, and some other stuff that doesn't read out with this suit. The light blinks yellow."
"Wouldn't kill you fast, then. You could breathe it a while and still get help in time to save your lungs."
"That's what I thought," Whitbread said uneasily. He began loosening the dogs holding down his faceplate.
"What does that mean, Whitbread?"
"Nothing, sir." Jonathon had been doubled over far too long. Every joint and muscle screamed for surcease. He had run out of things to describe in the alien cabin. And the thrice-damned Motie just stood there in its sandals and its faint smile, watching, watching...
Whitbread took a deep breath and held it. He lifted the faceplate against slight pressure, looked the alien in the eye, and screamed ail in one breath, "Will you for God's sake turn off that damned force field!" and snapped the faceplate down.
The alien turned to his control board and moved something. The soft barrier in front of Whitbread vanished.
Whitbread took two steps forward. He straightened up a half-inch at a time, feeling the pain and hearing the cracking of unused joints. He had been crouched in that cramped space for an hour and a half, examined by half a dozen twisted Brownies and one bland, patient alien. He hurt!
He had trapped cabin air under his faceplate. The stink caught at his throat, so that he stppped breathing; then self-consciously he sniffed at it in case anyone wanted to know what it was.
He smelled animais and machines, ozone, gasoline, hot oil, halitosis, old sweat socks, burning, glue, and things he had never smelled before. It was unbelievably rich-and his suit was removing it, thank God.
He asked, "Did you hear me yell?"
"Yes, and so did everyone in this ship," said Cargill's voice. "I don't think there's a man aboard who isn't following you, unless it's Buckman. Any result?"
"He turned off the force field. Right away. He was just waiting for me to remind him.
"And I'm in the cabin now. I told you about the repairs? It's all repairs, all hand made, even the control panels. But it's all well done, nothing actually in the way, for a Motie, that is. Me, I'm too big. I don't dare move.
"The little ones have all disappeared. No, there's one peeping out of a corner..the big one is waiting to see what I do. I wish he'd stop that."
"See if he'll come back to the ship with you -- "
"I'll try, sir."
The alien had understood him before, or seemed to, but it did not understand him now. Whitbread thought furiously. Sign language? His eye fell on something that had to be a Motie pressure suit.
He pulled it from its rack, noting its lightness: no weaponry, no armor. He handed it to the alien, then pointed to MacArthur beyond the bubble.
The alien began dressing at once. In literally seconds it was in full gear, in a suit that, inflated, looked like ten beach balls glued together. Only the gauntlets were more than simple inflated spheres.
It took a transparent plastic sack from the wall and reached suddenly to capture one of the 1/2 -meter-high miniatures. He stuffed it into the sack headfirst while the miniature wriggled, then turned to Whitbread and rushed at the middle with lightning speed. It had reached behind Whitbread with two right hands and was already moving away when Whitbread reacted: a violent and involuntary yip.
"Whitbread? What's hapening? Answer me!" Another voice in the background of Whitbread's suit said crisply, "Marines, stand by."
"Nothing, Commander Cargill. It's all right. No attack, I mean,I think the alien's ready to go-no, it isn't. It's got two of the parasites in a plastic sack, and it's inflating the sack from an air spiggot. One of the little beasts was on my back. I never felt it.
"Now the alien's making something. I don't understand what's keeping it. It knows we want to go to MacArthur-it put on a pressure suit."
"What's it doing?"
"It's got the cover off the control panel. It's rewiring things. A moment ago it was squeezing sliver toothpaste in a ribbon along the printed circuitry. I'm only telling you what it looks like, of course. YIPE!"
The midshipman was caught in a hurricane. Arms and legs flailing, he snatched frantically for something, anything solid. He was scraped along the side of the air lock, reached and found nothing to grasp. Then night and stars whirled past him.
"The Motie opened the air lock," he reported. "No warning. I'm outside, in space." His hands used attitude jets to stop his tumbling. "I think he let all the breathing air out. There's a gteat fog of ice crystals around me, and-Oh, Lord, it's the Motie! No, it isn't, it's not wearing a pressure suit. There goes another one.
"They must be the little ones," Cargill said.
"Right He's killed all the parasites. He probably has to do it every so often, to clear them out. He doesn't know how long he'll be aboard MacArthur and he doesn't want them running wild. So he's evacuated the ship."
"He should have warned you."
"Damn right he should!. Excuse me, sir."
"Are you all right, Whitbread?", A new voice. The Captain's.
"Yessir. I'm approaching the alien's ship. Ah, here he comes now. He's jumping for the taxi." Whitbread stopped his approach and turned to watéh the Motie. The alien sailed through space like a cluster of beach balls, but graceful, graceful. Within a transparent balloon fixed to its torso, two small, spidery figures gestured wildly. The alien paid them no attention.
"A perfect jump," Whithread muttered. "Unless-he's cutting it a bit fine. Jesus!" The alien was still decelerating as it flew through the taxi door, dead centered, so that it never touched the edges. "Ho must be awfully sure of his balance."
"Whitbread, is that alien inside your vehicle? Without you?"
Whitbread winced at the bite in the Captain's voice. "Yes, sir. I'm going after him."
"See you do, Mister."
The alien was at the pilot's station, studying the controls intensely. Suddenly it reached out and began to turn the quick fasteners at the panel's edge. Whitbread yelped and rushed up to grab the alien's shoulder. It paid no attention. Whitbread put his helmet against the alien's. "Leave that to hell alone!" he shouted. Then he gestured to the passenger's saddle. The alien rose slowly, turned, and straddled the saddle. It didn't fit there. Whitbread took the controls gratefully and began to maneuver the taxi toward MacArthur.
He brought the taxi to a stop just beyond the neat hole Sinclair had opened in MacArthur's Field. The alien ship was out of sight around the bulk of the warship. Hangar deck was below, and the midshipman yearned to take the gig through under her own power, to demonstrate his ability to the watching alien, but he knew better. They waited.
Suited spacers came up from the hangar deck. Cables trailed behind them. The spacers waved. Whitbread waved back, and seconds later Sinclair started the winches to tug the gig down into MacArthur. As they passed the hangar doors more cables were made fast to the top side of the gig. These pulled taut, slowing the taxi, as the great hangar doors began to close.
The Motie was watching, its entire body swiveling from side to side, reminding Whitbread of an owl he had once seen in a zoo on Sparta. Amazingly, the tiny creatures in the alien's bag were also watching; they aped the larger alien. Finally they were at rest, and Whitbread gestured toward tha air lock. Through the thick glass he could see Gunner Kelley and a dozen armed Marines.

There were twenty screens in a curved array m front of Rod Blaine~ and consequently every scientist aboard MacArthur wanted to sit near him. As the only possible way to settle the squabbleg Rod ordered the ship to battle stations and the bridge cleared of all civilian personnel. Now he watched as Whitbread climbed aboard the gig.
Through the camera eye mounted on Whitbread's helmet Blaine could see the alien seated in the pilot's chair, its image seemng to grow as the middie rushed toward it. Blaine turned to Renner "Did you see what it did?"
"Yah. Sir. The alien was-Captain I'd swear it was trying to take the-gig's controls apart."
"So would I." They watched in frustration as Whitbread piloted the gig toward MacArthur. Blaine couldn't blaine the boy for not looking around at his passenger while trying to steer the boat, but,. best leave him alone. They waited while the cables were made fast to the gig and it was winched down into MacArthur.
"Captain!" It was Staley, midshipman of the watch, but Rod could -see it too. Several screens and a couple of minor batteries were trained on the gig, but the heavy stuff was all almed at the alien ship; and it had come to life.
A streamer of blue light glowed at the stem of the alien craft. The color of Cherenkov radiation, it flowed parallel to the slender silver spine at the tail. Suddenly there was a line of intense white light beside it.
"Yon ship's under way, Captain," Sinclair reported.
"God damn it to hell!" His own screens showed the same thing, also that the ship's batteries were tracking the alien craft.
"Permission to fire?" the gunnery officer asked.
"No!" But what was the thing up to? Rod wondered. Time enough when Whitbread got aboard, he supposed. The alien ship couldn't escape. And neither would the alien.
"Squad to the air lock. Escort Whitbread and that thing to the reception room. Politely, Gunner. Politely, but make sure it doesn't go anywhere else."
"Aye aye, Captain."
"Number One?" Blaine called.
"Yes, sir," Cargill answered.
"You were monitoring Whitbread's helmet camera the entire time he was in that ship?"
"Yes, sir."
"Any chance there was another alien aboard?"
"No, sir. There wasn't room. Right, Sandy?"
"Aye, Captain," Sinclair answered. Blaine had activated a com circuit to both the after bridge and the engine room. "Not if that beastie were to carry fuel too. And we saw nae doors."
"There wasn't any air-lock door either, until it opened," Rod reminded him. "Was there anything that might have been a bathroom?"
"Captain, did we nae see the w.c.? I took the object on port side near the air lock to be such."
"Yeah. Then that thing's on autopilot, would you both agree? But we didn't see him program it."
"We saw him practically rebuild the controls, Captain," Cargill said. "My Lord! Do you think that's how they control..."
"Seems verra inefficient, but the beastie did nae else that could hae been the programming of an autopilot," Sinclair mused. "And 'twas bloody quick about it, sir. Captain, do ye think it built an autopilot?"
There was a glare on one of Rod's screens. "Catch that? A blue flare in the alien ship's air lock. Now what was that for?"
"To kill yon vermin?" Sinclair asked.
"Hardly. The vacuum would have done," Cargill answered.
Whitbread came onto the bridge and stood stiffly in front of Blaine's command chair. "Reporting to Captain, sir."
"Well done, Mr. Whitbread," Rod said. "Uh-have you any ideas about those two vermin he brought abroad? Such as why they're here?"
"No, sir-courtesy? We might want to dissect one?"
"Possibly. If we knew what they were. Now take a look at that." Blaine pointed at his screens.
The alien ship was turning, the white light of its drive drawing an arc on the sky. It seemed to be heading back to the Trojan points.
And Jonathon Whitbread was the only man alive who had ever been inside. As Blaine released the crew from action stations, the red-haired midshipman was probably thinking that the ordeal was over.